Marine Conservation Group Sues UK Government Over North Sea Oil and Gas Licences

North Sea oil and gas licences

Oceana UK, part of an international marine conservation organization, has launched a legal challenge against the UK government. The group claims that the government’s decision to issue 82 oil and gas licences in the North Sea between October 2023 and May 2024 was unlawful. They argue that the Secretary of State for Energy Security, Claire Coutinho, and the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) ignored advice from independent government experts regarding the environmental impact on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The contested licences cover 226 areas or “blocks,” with one-third overlapping MPAs. Oceana asserts that the assessments provided by a government agency did not reflect the expert advice, thus breaching legal requirements. Hugo Tagholm, Executive Director of Oceana UK, stated, “This is a deliberate choice to unlawfully ignore expert advice and jeopardise our seas, climate, and future.”

The North Sea has experienced over 2,000 oil spills since 2011, including 215 within MPAs, according to investigative website The Ferret. These spills, along with exposure to toxic chemicals and extreme noise pollution from seismic blasting, pose significant threats to marine life.

This legal action follows a similar case by Greenpeace, which was dismissed last year. In that case, the court ruled in favor of the government, which argued it was not required to assess the “downstream” greenhouse gases produced by consuming oil and gas. Rowan Smith, a solicitor for Leigh Day representing Oceana, emphasized the importance of adhering to expert advice condemning harmful plans for North Sea oil and gas expansion.

Oceana hopes the Secretary of State will reconsider defending this legal claim, but is prepared to pursue the case if necessary. The NSTA has declined to comment on potential litigation, and the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero has also been approached for comment.

Green Time Editorial Body